September CoTM: Fat Jack O'Lantern (the story of an entrepreneurs two best friends)


I have a soft spot in my heart for this cookie this month guys and I want to tell you why.  

This month's cookie is the Fat Jack O'Lantern.  It's a pumpkin beer chocolate chip cookie.  Since we launched, we have had a pumpkin beer chocolate chip cookie in some shape or form.  If you follow us, you know we always have a Sam Adams cookie of the menu.  This cookie is delicious, first and foremost.  On top of that I think it really highlights some amazing things that two organizations that support Top Shelf Cookies do really well.

The pumpkin in this cookie is 100% Massachusetts grown surplus pumpkin.  This pumpkin was slated to go into a landfill.  My good friends at CommonWealth Kitchen roasted and pureed this pumpkin.  This pumpkin is finding homes with CWK's partners.  I was happy to use this pumpkin in this cookie.  Guess where some of this pumpkin found a home?  That's right, Sam Adams used this pumpkin to bring back and brew a limited run of Fat Jack.  

I figured this was the perfect chance to tell you guys a little bit about what both CommonWealth Kitchen and Sam Adams have done for my little cookie company.  

When Top Shelf Cookies was a superstition for Bruins pregame, I mentioned to one of my pregame pals I was thinking about taking it beyond superstition.  This pregame pal was Jennifer Glanville, brewery manager for Boston Beer.  She was immediately very supportive and even told me that Sam Adams had a program to help small food and beverage businesses like mine would be.  

Time went by, I struggled with the confidence to actually do this.  I had started connecting with what's now known as CommonWealth Kitchen.  I had started the application process, but I was scared.  What if I screwed the whole thing up?  What if nobody liked my cookies? What if quitting my office job had been a terrible mistake?   

At one point I brought my father to a Bruins game with me, I always enjoyed bringing him to The Fours because I liked to introduce him to my friends and he's a good time when I can get him out.  I had the chance to introduce him to Jennifer and the two of them started chatting like I wasn't even there.  No hockey talk, no talk about beer (which is what I thought might happen) it was talk about me and Top Shelf Cookies.  I remember being cornered by them talking about "When's she gonna do this, I want to help her"  I got home that night and I decided enough with this wishy wash behavior.  I started to get my application in.  Jennifer probably doesn't even know how much of an impact her gentle ribbing had on me.

So, we launched formally in September of 2014.  The night before my health inspection I ran into Jennifer (which is rare in Bruins offseason) and told her we were about to launch.  She was so excited!  

CWK was nothing short of amazing and so integral to our start, I've told anyone that would listen how much I value working there and the community.  But, I don't talk as much about the commissary kitchen as I should and they are key to this pumpkin.  CWK's commissary staff is led by Seth Morrison, who has been an amazing friend to Top Shelf Cookies.  He's help me get bigger, faster, stronger and has also helped me to recognize when I need to take a break.  The team he leads, I can't tell you how much I love these people.  Dinora, Martha, Ron and Frances.  These people come from all kinds of different backgrounds and they live in our neighborhood and I just feel so blessed to have met them and work alongside them.  I have learned a lot more about life from them and gained a bigger perspective on things.  Everyday in the commissary is different.  The commissary does a lot of farmer added value projects, for example right now it's the height of tomato season and they will be crushed tons (literal tons) of tomatoes and jarring them so that farmers can extend their harvest.  The other part of the work they do is contract work for small businesses like Top Shelf Cookies, where they actually produce the products.  In our case, they make a few of our top sellers.  This allows me to get out on the road and secure some wholesale accounts and also it allows me to create new stuff.  It's pretty amazing.  Seth has an amazing commitment to help these small businesses grow.  He's an amazing leader to this group in the commissary that is growing.  I love that CWK is able to provide real skill building jobs in a neighborhood that needs them.  

Now, let me tell you about my good friends at Sam Adams and the Brewing The American Dream program.    Two weeks after we launched, I got a call from someone at Sam Adams.  Could I make 200 cookies using their pumpkin beer?  I said yes and then I panicked.  I hadn't even made 200 cookies in the kitchen at once yet. I didn't have a recipe and they needed it in two days.  I could have said I couldn't do it, but then I would never have another chance with them again.  I pulled together a recipe fast and realized I had a skill for this.  So, that became quickly part of my business model.  Whenever Sam Adams asks us to provide cookies for an event, they pay for them and they offer the opportunity to stay at the event and tell people about our business.  That's amazing, especially now where everyone is willing to take product in exchange for exposure.  

The Brewing the American Dream program helped us to get our first business loan.  This allowed us to do our first pop up at Boston Public Market.  The other part of the program is mentoring.  I can call them anytime and say "I need help with...." and next thing you know I have a phone call scheduled.  Since Top Shelf Cookies is local, I've been able to sit with people at their office.  BTAD also helped me to get another loan and build credit.  We used the second loan to help hire staff and work through holiday efforts.  Last fall, I was able to participate in a pitch competition for a grant.  Even though we didn't win, I learned a lot from it and I'm ready to go back in!

Sam Adams was my best customer for my first full year in business, even better than that they've been so supportive.  When I go to the brewery, everyone is genuinely interested in how Top Shelf Cookies is doing.  When I go to the office, I'm always greet with a hug from Risa Sherman (who might actually be the nicest person on the planet)

In addition to supporting me and several small businesses all over the country Sam Adams has been a big supporter of CommonWealth Kitchen.  So, when the opportunity arose to tell all of you about my two best friends through a cookie.  I jumped at it. 

I hope you enjoy the cookie, it's pretty tasty and the story is a good one.  

Happy September!


Comment on this post (3 comments)

  • MaryAnn says...

    Wonderfully yummy cookies!

    September 14, 2017

  • Annette Donahue says...

    I love this post! You have a gift for making it seem like you are right across the table talking about this instead of reading it online.

    September 09, 2017

  • margaret says...

    this is a great story! it really explains what being a small business is all about! thanks for sharing it.

    September 08, 2017

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